Like most people, I have a complicated relationship with social media.
Forget the fact that I teach a Mass Media class; likewise, forget the fact that I used to get paid writing for a Buffalo Sabres fan site, and can thank Twitter for driving traffic to that site – the fact that I somewhat make money thanks to social media means nothing! I must say that I do find value in social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Instagram. When used properly, Facebook allows me to remain connected with distant relatives, age-old friends, and former students; when approached with caution, Twitter provides easy access to breaking news and the opportunity to engage in conversation with people around the world.
Of course, there is the other side to social media – the ugly side that involves cyberbullying, the deliberate spread of misinformation, and all of the self-doubt that comes from looking at people create this fictional version of themselves, where everything about their lives is amazing and the bad stuff conveniently gets ignored. At some point, I will get around to talking about all of these negatives, but right now, there is something that is bugging me so much that I have to put what are undoubtedly more serious issues aside so I can get this off of my chest:
There seems to be a significant increase in THOSE types of parents posting on social media, and it needs to stop.
You all know what I mean when I say THOSE types of parents: the ones who gush about how much they love their children; the mothers who post all of their children’s statistics after one good game (conveniently ignoring the ones in which their child did not perform particularly well); the dad who is constantly posting videos of kids kids practicing, or sharing that 10 second video highlighting the only good play his boy made that day; the mom who uploads photos of the local newspaper write-up that mentions her children; the mothers who change their profile pictures to photos of their kids; and so on.
(If it seems like I mentioned mothers more often than fathers in that previous paragraph – well duh. Sorry ladies: I see way more moms using social media as propaganda promoting their kids than I see dads.)
Look: I have three kids, and when my oldest son first started playing sports and learning a musical instrument, there were moments when I was THIS CLOSE to becoming one of THOSE parents. If you scroll back far enough on my Facebook timeline, I am sure you can find posts in which I list how many goals he scored during a hockey game, and I know I bragged at least once about the score he received when performing on the trumpet at the annual NYSSMA festival.
However, it didn’t take me long to realize that what I was doing was ridiculous, childish, embarrassing, and toxic. For starters, I almost always had one “rival” family in mind when I was posting these “triumphs,” meaning my posts were born from a desire to either one-up someone else’s child, or to prove someone else’s opinion about my boy wrong.
Not exactly good reasons to be posting on social media, right?
And before you try to argue that you are only posting your kid’s accomplishments on social media because you are proud of your son or daughter, I would like to remind you that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Also, bullshit – you have ulterior motives, just like I did.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not like social media created bragging parents. We all know dads who will spend hours chewing your ear off talking about how great his kid is, and parents have been force-feeding photos and stories of their kids into the faces of other parents since who-knows-when. The thing is, most of us realize how stupid the dad running his mouth at every sporting event sounds, so we distance ourselves from parents like that and mostly keep ourselves from becoming like them. Promoting our kids on social media, however, comes across as the norm – everyone is doing it, right? Plus, it’s not like we are MAKING anyone look at our posts; unlike that dad who sidles up to us during a game and talks incessantly about his kid whether we want him to or not, we don’t force our Facebook and Instagram posts on anyone. Hell, those people chose to follow us! Why not load up our timeline with success stories?
And that right there is the problem with social media: because it is non-evasive, it lowers our inhibitions and allows us – I would actually say, encourages us – to use the media as propaganda for our lives: Look at my wonderful life! See how amazing and talented my kids are! Bet you wish you could be like us! So tempting . . . and so toxic.
So what can you do – how can you manage to share some of your family’s successes in a way that doesn’t foster resentment and create rivalries that don’t need to be there? For one, when it comes to team sports, group activities, etc., you should focus on the success of the team or group, not on your child. I take to social media when one of my kid’s teams wins a tournament, a playoff game, etc. I don’t mention my kid’s accomplishments – no discussions of goals, assists, home runs, strikeouts earned while pitching, etc. Instead, I focus on the team’s accomplishments – hard work, overcoming adversity, mounting a late comeback, and so on. Taking this approach allows me to celebrate success in a way that doesn’t foster resentment from the other families who have children on the team.
And please: spare us from sharing a photograph of the local newspaper write-up. You might claim that this is a way of celebrating the success of the team, but I guarantee that 99% of the parents who share these write-ups are only doing so when their kids are mentioned. Listen: your kid getting his or her name in the local newspaper doesn’t mean jack shit. If we wanted that information, we would grab the newspaper ourselves. Colleges are not checking your Facebook page in order to recruit your child, so go ahead and put your scrapbook together, but keep it private, like it should be.
But what if your child participates in activities that require him or her to fly solo? Or what if your child receives a really cool award given out by the coach of a team? That’s all well and good . . . but keep it to yourself, or make your social media post so vague that it doesn’t inspire parents to start seeing how their own kids stack up. There is zero reason for you to tell all of your Facebook friends that your son was awarded the Most Improved Player award on his hockey team, or that your daughter received a perfect score on her flute solo at a music festival. Don’t tell me that you have friends and family that live far away who need to know about these accomplishments – send them a text, or better yet, let your kid make a few phone calls to spread the good news. No one blasts these ultimately insignificant accomplishments out to hundreds of people simply because we want a few aunts and uncles to be in the loop; it’s boasting, pure and simple. Grow up: all of us had these tiny victories in life, and the only people who ever gave a crap were our inner circle. Stop using social media to make your kid seem like the next great musician, or a future professional athlete, or someone destined to be on Broadway. Odds are, it ain’t gonna happen.
If it seems like I am telling you that there is never a good time to trumpet your children’s accomplishments on social media . . . well duh: that’s my point. If your kids are really smart, or really talented, we will ultimately hear about them. Celebrate their success at home, and use social media to promote teamwork, citizenship, and all the things this country needs way more than individual accolades. Better yet: get a life. The more time you spend talking about your kids on Facebook, the less time you are spending interacting with them in the first place.